Race Weekend Central

Legacy Motor Club Addition Gives Toyota ‘Strength in Numbers’ for Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Toyota’s status as the smallest NASCAR Cup Series manufacturer hasn’t stopped it from bringing home hardware on NASCAR’s biggest tracks. Look no further than Denny Hamlin, who has won three of last eight editions of the Great American Race.

Toyota only had six full-time entries in the 2023 season, and only seven in last year’s Daytona 500 when accounting for Travis Pastrana’s one-off start with 23XI Racing. But with Legacy Motor Club’s switch from Chevrolet to Toyota this offseason, Toyota has a small, but significant, boost to its numbers on superspeedways this season.

Instead of having six full-time cars to work with, Toyota will now have eight cars for Sunday’s (Feb. 18) Daytona 500 with the additions of Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek. Toyota can potentially add a ninth car if LMC co-owner Jimmie Johnson is able to race his way into the 500 during Thursday’s (Feb. 15) Daytona Duel races.

With an influx of new teams, names and faces, both Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell cited LMC’s addition to the Toyota umbrella as an advantage for the manufacturer on superspeedways.

“It’s strength in numbers,” Truex said. “I think something that’s hurt us on [super]speedway racing the last couple years is being the lowest car count of all manufacturers. So, it certainly gives Toyota better odds of winning another 500. For us, I think just having more help out there and having more friends that you can lean on should help our chances.

“We’ll see.”

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“I think it’s definitely an advantage if we can get to the end of the race,” Bell said. “And if we can get to the end of the race with all of our cars standing, I feel confident that our chances will be higher for Toyota getting in victory lane.”

A larger number of cars does create more opportunities for Toyota, but it does come at a cost. Pit stops can make or break a finish in these races, and one miscue can upend an entire day. The small cars made it easier for Toyota to coordinate its teams on pit road, and that is something that Tyler Reddick said the teams will have to work on.

“We have more cars to work with for sure, but it does get a little bit more complex from pit road,” Reddick said. “Instead of just having six cars attempting to make the road at the same time, now you got to coordinate nine cars getting all there together.

“So, it’ll be more important than it even has been in the past to kind of be on the same page on the fuel strategy, being close in proximity, coming to pit road and then above all else with nine cars, right? With more cars, you have more possibility of someone having an issue along the way too.

“We’re going to have to execute our strategy pretty well, and we’ll have some practice of that soon.”

Hamlin, the most decorated driver at Daytona of the bunch, echoed the same sentiments about pit stops. And while he acknowledged the benefits of teammates, he also expressed an increase desire to look out for himself and his own race team.

“I’m just kind of torn on how exactly working together is beneficial, and this, that and the other,” Hamlin said. “I think it’s probably in my best interest to get back to the basics, and that’s doing what I feel is best to win the race for myself.

“While having teammates and all is great, I think those are certainly assets you can use to win races in certain situations, but I think that sometimes it’s those who are the most selfish that make the move for themselves are the ones that win the race.”

Just look no further than last year’s running.

Ricky [Stenhouse Jr.] had no teammates last year, and he won the race,” Hamlin said “[I and the No. 11 team] certainly had our fair share of moments where we had to pick between a move a teammate made versus a move someone else made, and I deemed that the other person made the right move, and so, those lead into, what I would argue, more successful results for the No. 11 car.

“You want to help your teammates as much as you can, because you need those allies throughout the race and certainly during it. But I feel as though I need to personally go back to the style which I had a few years ago, and we’ll see what those results net.”

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As for Johnson, having to qualify for the Daytona 500 on time is not uncharted ground.

“This is my third time [qualifying on time],” Johnson said. “My very first 500, I had to go through it, and [Chad] Knaus brought a killer car down here that won the pole, which made life very easy. Last year was quite nerve wracking to assume we didn’t have pole speed, and then the whole guessing game of will we outrun the other non-chartered cars? Here we are again.

“I do feel like I have less stress on me this year than last, but when I’m standing out on the frontstretch watching cars go by and seeing lap times, I’m sure it’ll ramp back up. But it’s a serious moment. We really hope that we can put our best foot forward here today and qualify and be one of the fastest two [open] cars and not have to worry about anything else.”

Johnson had hopes that he could qualify on time, but unfortunately for him, he just missed out as the third-fastest of the six open cars. He still has a path to qualifying for the 2024 rendition of the Great American Race, but it won’t be without difficulty.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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The Toys qualified 22 to 39 within half a second. It won’t take long for them to get in line to the front and hold up the field so they can swap the lead by a coat of paint 60 times. It will be interesting at the end to see who will help who.

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